According to Sufi legend, the Prophet Sulaymãn was the first to learn the healing properties of flowers and herbs while he was at prayer one day, and a flower sprang up and greeted him. Sulaymãn returned the greeting and asked the flower what it wanted. It replied that it was a healer. Sulaymãn noted this and, seeing his interest, other flowers grew around him and told him their healing secrets too, until he knew the cure for all diseases.
Flowers heal, it is said, because they possess dhat. This is the spirit of God and the essence of every flower that ever was, is, or can be. Shamans say the same: that every plant is all plants, so that lavender is not just a lavender, but all lavenders; and since all lavenders are not just a member of their species, but part of the entire plant kingdom, they are not just one flower either, but carry the potency and spirit of all plants.
This shamanic concept also illustrates the magical "Law of Similarity" referred to by Sir James Frazer in his book The Golden Bough, which states that "like attracts like." Thus, the effect of a plant is not just limited to its species; if it looks like another plant of a different species, it will act in a similar way, and if it looks like a human body part or organ, that is what it will heal.
Other shamanic concepts in the story of Sulaymãn are that plants which grow locally will cure local diseases, and they will tell you what ailments they are used for if you ask them directly. The shamanic practice for doing so is called journeying. It is a form of active meditation, where you take your attention into your body and allow it to reveal itself as a form of conscious energy or spirit. You can then ask which herbs or plants it most needs in order to heal itself, and how these should be used--as a tea, the ingredient for an herbal bath, or an aromatherapy oil to be used in a burner, for example.
Having identified the herb, you can then look for it in nature or find it at a herbalist's shop and gather a quantity for yourself.
Spend a little time with it when you do, imagining it to be a real spiritual being and entering into dialog with it so you can explore its medicinal qualities. You might then wish to look up this plant in an herbal encyclopaedia to cross-check the information you have received with the guidance provided by others who also know this plant. You may be surprised at how accurate you are. But, then again, why should this be so surprising? At some time in the distant past, before there were "scientists" and "medical procedures," the spirit of the plant must have communicated its purpose to someone in order to be included in an encyclopaedia at all.
Two very good plants to begin with, if you wish to restore your body and build your strength, are echinacea and uña de gato (cat's claw), both of which are powerful immune system healers. The immune system is what gives the body energy and helps it fight off and prevent disease. These plants should therefore be considered in any regime to empower the body.
In aromatherapy, oil of amber, extracted from the resin of the pine tree Picea succinfera, is also recommended as a balancer of the body's energies, and for this reason it is known to Sufis as the King of Scents. A drop of amber applied to the third eye will be absorbed by the body and stimulate the pineal gland, which activates and harmonizes many of the body's functions and leads to increased well-being.
Harmonizing the Emotional Self
The heart sees the Giver of the secret - Rumi
Balanced emotions allow our souls to flower. When we are calm and tranquil, we can moderate the "heat" of our passions to achieve emotional equilibrium. We are then able to avoid the sudden traumas that cause us pain and distract us from the path, so that life's ups and downs have less impact on us.
There are particular herbs that help with this. The shamans of the Amazon use a plant called chiric sanango, for example. As well as its physical effects of warming up the body and bringing comfort from the cold, it offers more psychological and emotional healing, also to do with hot and cold, in that it "warms up" a cold heart and "cools" a heart that is inflamed with jealousy or rage. In other words, it helps people open their hearts to love so they discover a more sensitive and compassionate part of themselves.
Chiric sanango can sometimes be found in specialist herbal shops or on the Internet, but failing that, mint can be used instead, as it is also a balancer of the body's physical and emotional heat and promotes the flow of love. For these reasons it is associated with the planet Venus, which was named after the Roman goddess of love.
A good plant to combine with mint is lemon balm, which is famous in Arabian herbal magic for creating feelings of love and wholeness. The chronicler Pliny remarked that its powers of healing were so great that, rubbed on a sword that had inflicted a wound, it would staunch the flow of blood in an injured person without even the need for physical contact. Recent research at Northumbria University in the UK has also proven its beneficial effects in increasing feelings of calm and well-being. It is a great relaxant and a perfect aid to exercises in meditation and forgiveness.
To make a tea of these herbs, simply boil the fresh ingredients (the amounts you use can be much to your own taste, but three heaped teaspoons is about right) in a pint or so of water for a few minutes and then simmer for a further twenty, allowing the water to reduce. Add honey if you wish, then strain and drink when cool.
For a mixture that will last a little longer, add the fresh ingredients to alcohol (rum or vodka is recommended), with honey if you wish, and drink three to five teaspoonfuls a day, morning, noon, and night. These methods of preparation can also be used for the other plants in this section.
Frankincense aromatherapy oil can also be used as an aid to relaxation and for settling the emotions. It is a powerful cleanser of the energies and enhances intuition, awareness, empathy, and compassion. It was, of course, one of the gifts brought by the wise men to the infant Jesus, and it is still used today in religious ceremonies to create feelings of love and harmony among congregation members.
Another means of harmonizing the emotions is the Sufi practice of toning. The long vowel sound a, as in the word father, will travel from the throat to the heart, where its vibrations can be felt opening our loving consciousness and stimulating our powers of compassion. An alternative, better known today, is the use of the sacred sound om, for the same purpose: to bring calm and connection to others and to the divine within and without ourselves.
Harmonizing the Mental Self
Intellect deliberates, Intellect reflects
And meanwhile Love evaporates into the stratosphere - Rumi
Plants that work on the mind to enhance our powers of skilful thought are more concerned with the development of nonrational and intuitive information than in the improvement of intellectual reasoning, since our rational and analytic faculties are often what hold us back in our spiritual development. As Rumi tells us, "nothing happens until you quit contriving with your mind."
Intellectual prowess is symptomatic of the "trained" or conditioned mind, which has been taught to behave itself and act in a certain unthinking way. As the word "prowess" implies, there is often also a sense of unwholesome pride or arrogance associated with it, which is a game in itself. To access the greater domains of real genius within us, meanwhile, new ways of thought are necessary, unimpaired by expectations or our desire to be an intellectual, to prove ourselves, or to achieve. In fact, we don't need to prove anything, and there is nothing we must achieve.
Plants that can free us from the shackles of intellectual thought and help develop our powers of insight, clarity, and truth include bracken, jasmine, marigold, mugwort, and poplar. These plants bring the gift of lucid dreaming, a special state of consciousness where we become aware of our dreaming selves and can direct our dreams, which may also be prophetic in nature. The boundary between sleeping and wakefulness becomes fluid, and our dreams are more colourful, richer, and potent than before.
Poplar leaves and buds were a key ingredient in the "flying ointments" of European witches, who used it for astral projection. It (or a combination of poplar and the other plants above) can also be used to make a "dreaming pillow," which will help you to explore new levels of consciousness.
To make one of these, take small handfuls of mugwort and poplar, or some of the other herbs mentioned above, and blend them together. Sprinkle the mix with neroli, orange, or patchouli oils, and bind it together. Then place it in a cloth pouch and put it beneath your pillow. It is said that an intention for dreams based on love is best made on a waxing moon, and dreams about health and well-being are best on a waning moon. Keep a dream journal next to your bed, and as soon as you wake up, note down your dreams and reflections so these messages of your soul are not lost.
Another means of developing powers of skilful thought is to work with plants like valerian and vervain that have psycho-spiritual properties for acuity of mind and that help us to overcome negativity and inertia.
Valerian has been recorded from the sixteenth century as an aid to a restful mind and, in the two world wars, was used to combat anxiety and depression. It is still used for these purposes. It also brings relief from panic attacks and tension headaches, which often arise from an unresolved issue or stress of some kind, sometimes to do with love or the lack of it that we perceive in our lives. By relaxing the mind, the psyche is able to work on the real problem, aided by the plant itself.
One way of taking valerian (which will also aid deep and restful sleep) is by adding equal parts to passionflower leaves and hop flowers and covering them with vodka and honey for a few weeks, after which a few teaspoons of the liqueur are taken at bedtime.
Vervain, meanwhile, was well known to the Druids, who used it to protect against "evil spirits" (nowadays, we might say "inner issues" or "worries"). It will help with anxiety, paranoia, insomnia, and depression. Once again, by relaxing the conscious mind, the unconscious is allowed to work on, and release, our more deep-rooted problems and concerns.
Another plant that protects and eases the mind is garlic. Nicholas Culpepper noted these qualities and wrote of it as a "cure-all." It has long been associated with magical uses, protection from witches, vampires, and evil spells, and Roman soldiers ate it to give themselves courage and overcome their fears before battle. There is also a tradition of placing garlic beneath the pillows of children to protect them while they sleep and defend them from nightmares.
One way to use this plant is to make garlic honey by adding two cloves of peeled garlic to a little honey and crushing them in a mortar, then adding another tablespoon of honey to the mix. This can be drunk in hot water or simply eaten, two teaspoons at a time, morning, noon, and night.
An aromatherapy oil that is good for peace of mind and the expansion of spiritual consciousness is sandalwood, which is especially recommended by Sufis "whenever serious meditation and spiritual practices are being undertaken, because it is quieting to all of the egotisms of the body, especially those relating to energies,"11 which can often play on the mind.
Finally, there is a toning practice, too, which helps to develop our intuitive mental capacities. This is the use of the vowel sound i (as in regime), which causes healing vibrations at the third eye, stimulating the pineal gland, strengthening the powers of insight, and relaxing the hold of the conditioned mind.
Harmonizing the Spiritual Self
In the body of the world, they say there is a soul
And you are that - Rumi
Perhaps the greatest plant allies we have for soothing the soul and bringing good fortune and harmony are marigold flowers. Aemilius Macer, as long ago as the thirteenth century, wrote that merely gazing at marigolds will draw "wicked humours out of the head," "comfort the heart," and make "the sight bright and clean."
Shamans grow marigolds near the front door of their houses to absorb negativity from people who pass by. They say that the flowers turn black when this happens, but go back to their normal bright colour when this negative energy is dispersed through their roots to the earth. Marigold petals are also scattered beneath the bed, where they will ensure restful sleep and enrich the soul, aiding astral travel, during which we may commune with the infinite and learn its loving and healing secrets. They can also be added to bath water to bring calm to body and soul.
Another practice you might try is to take a bucket of water containing crushed marigold flowers and thoroughly wash the floors of your meditation room, to create a peaceful sanctuary for your soul. You can also drink marigold tea, or eat the petals fresh in salads, to enhance your spiritual powers.
Myrrh is perhaps the most potent aromatic oil to help with spiritual expansion. It is mentioned in the Qur'an for its healing properties and was one of the oils commended by God to Moses. According to Shaykh Hakim, "in ancient times it was used to convey to people a certain internal esoteric teaching, to purify their spiritual environment so that the teachings would have a proper soil in which to be planted," and it is still used today as one of the most sacred anointing oils.
All aromatherapy oils are simple to use, and myrrh is no different. It can be massaged into the skin, used in a burner, rubbed onto bed sheets for blessings while you sleep, or a few drops can be added to your bath. It is also available in incense form as an aid to meditation.
The vowel sound u (as in you) can also be used during these meditations. This sound, according to Shaykh Hakim, is "Where our action meets and intermingles with the divine permission, the idhn," and it will unblock (and unlock) the soul through its vibrations, allowing you to connect with the greater soul of the world.
Enhancing Mystical Powers
The real truth of existence is sealed,
Until after many twists and turns of the road - Rumi
When our bodies, emotions, minds, and spirits are harmonious in themselves and in balance with one another, we are better able to find our way to the centre--to remember ourselves again and merge with the Beloved. And again, there are practices to help with this.
According to the twelfth-century mystic Abdul-Qadir, who founded the Qadiri Sufi order, the rose is the most magical, potent, and soul-filled of all, and "all dervishes use the rose (ward) as an emblem and symbol of the rhyming word wird ('concentration-exercises')."
The rose--the Mother of Scents--represents divinity itself. Tradition states that, at the beginning of the world, God created the soul of Prophecy, and that this soul gave birth to the 124,000 Prophets who have since walked the earth. So brightly did the soul of Prophecy shine that it began to perspire, and from the waters of these holy droplets grew the rose.
Every rose, therefore, is infused with divine power and carries the essence of the Prophets themselves. It is for this reason that the rose is considered the greatest ally for mystical experience, the most skilful healer, and the most accomplished teacher of the arts of love (which may be why we still give roses to our lovers today).
Rose water can be used throughout your soul's journey to help you balance any aspect of body, mind, emotions, or spirit, but it is of particular use in helping us attain the mystical state, where the sheets are thrown back to welcome our Beloved.
To make rose water, gather a few ounces of rose petals and place them in a bowl of spring or rain water to soak for at least a day and a night, then decant the liquid into a glass container. This elixir can be used directly on the skin, in bathing water, or drunk; ingestion will absorb the blessing (baraka) of the Prophets themselves, and the knowledge of God. Fresh rose petals can also be eaten, used as an ingredient in the dreaming pillows mentioned earlier, or sprinkled onto bed sheets so you sleep among the gods.
Ross Heaven is a therapist, workshop leader, and the author of several books on shamanism and healing, including Darkness Visible, the best-selling Plant Spirit Shamanism, and Love’s Simple Truths. His website is http://www.thefourgates.com where you can also read how to join his sacred journeys to the shamans and healers of the Amazon.
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